For voters, Israel not the only Jewish issue

This is it. The most hotly contested presidential race of our lifetimes is in the homestretch. One week from now, we will know who will be the next American president.


But first, America must vote, and that includes the Jews of this country, though we need no exhortation to go to the polls. Jews have long been among the nation’s most civic minded of minorities, and this election will be no different. We will turn out in force.

The big question is: How will we vote?

No simple answer this time. While Jews traditionally lean Democratic, recent surveys indicate some movement nationally toward the Republican Party. It’s a small shift but in a close election, a little is a lot.

Moreover, with the intifada entering its fourth year, American Jews have Israel on their minds more than ever. And that is sure to impact voting choices.

Both presidential candidates have their Middle East bona fides in order. Republicans point to President Bush as an unparalleled ally of Israel. Democrats cite Sen. John Kerry’s 100 percent rating from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, to make the case for their man.

This much is clear. Both candidates are friends of Israel. The days when we had to worry whether a given president or his administration would be “good for the Jews” are long over.

That’s why in this election Jews should not vote based solely on a single criterion: Israel.

Yes, Israel will always be of paramount interest to Jewish voters, but as long as we’re living here and not in Jerusalem, we need to make voting decisions based at least as much on domestic issues as on foreign policy such as the Iraq war.

Taxes, the Supreme Court, Social Security, the environment, education, stem cell research, abortion: All of them should be of the utmost concern to Jewish voters.

This newspaper has never endorsed candidates, and we will not do so in this election either. But we acknowledge the passions on both sides of the red state/blue state divide. These divisions are present in the Jewish community as well.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We Jews honor diverse opinion, and conflict often leads to consensus. As long as we remember we are still one community, we should feel free to have at it in the marketplace of ideas.

As for the election, we simply ask voters to ask themselves the same perfectly phrased question Ronald Reagan posed 24 years ago: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is America better off? Are we as a community of Jews better off? Find the answers to those questions, then go vote.